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BST Gazette Column 31/03/2017

BST31/03/2017

The big talking point of the week has been the publication of the 2015/16 accounts for Blackpool Football Club Ltd and its holding company, formerly Segesta Ltd but recently renamed Blackpool Football Club (Properties) Ltd . They disclose the financial details for the year to May 2016, the season in which the club played in and was relegated from League One and they make for interesting reading.

The headlines from the football club accounts are the massive drop in turnover from £18m to £4.5m (largely a result of the Premier League payments having finished), the down-scaling of expenditure almost across the board and the posting of an operating loss for the year of £1.8m, compared to a £7.5m profit in the previous set of accounts. It is worth commenting on and clarifying some of the information regarding these latest figures.

There was a massive cut in the wage budget of nearly 60% (from £6.4m in the Championship to £2.6m in League One). Quite why the owners didn’t use some of their cash reserves to try and protect the club’s League One status is not clear. Although a high wage bill doesn’t ensure success (Sheffield United with a bill of £6m didn’t gain promotion – though they are on track to win the title this year), slashing Blackpool’s wage bill so drastically didn’t give the manager the best chance to bounce back. Presumably the standard Oyston modus operandi was employed: looking to fulfil contractual obligations (League One survival) with as little financial backing as possible – and failing in even that modest objective.

Some observers are mistakenly assuming that part of the £1.8m loss can be attributed to there being little season ticket income last year because of the two year ticket deal being front-loaded. That isn't true. For those fans who bought the two year deal, the revenue was spread across the two years, so there was still over £700k of season ticket revenue in 2015/16. Obviously season ticket revenue will be considerably lower for the current season, probably less than £300k. Other gate receipts will be down as well in the current season with fewer home and away fans paying on the day.

Despite these reverses, the owners increased the value of the loan from the football club to BFC Properties Ltd by £300k, meaning BFC Properties now owes Blackpool FC a staggering £28.6m. In turn, BFC Properties has loaned an additional £1.6m to ‘connected companies’ (i.e. other Oyston businesses). Natfarm Ltd owes BFC Properties over £2.5m; a new company called Biomass Boilers Ltd (directors Karl and Victoria Oyston) got £250k; Zabaxe got a fresh loan of over £700k. Blackpool Supporters’ Trust questions whether this an appropriate or effective use of club money? The auditor has stated that he is uncertain how some of these companies can repay the loans and has ‘qualified’ the accounts accordingly.

Finally, Blackpool FC’s cash at bank reserves fell by nearly 25% in the year to May2016, from almost £9m to £6.8m. What is certain is that the accounts for the current 2016/17 season will make for even starker reading as the ethical boycott and Not A Penny More campaigns continue to bite. How long can the football club survive if it keeps on losing money? The situation is completely unsustainable without increased income (i.e. fans through the turnstiles, at the bars and club shop) and that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen under the current regime.

While the majority of fans continue to make their point by boycotting Bloomfield Road, committee members of the Supporters’ Trust know from conversations with prominent individuals in the town that many think privately the Oystons have now outstayed their time at Blackpool FC. The position of the owners is widely perceived as having an irreversibly negative impact on the club and by extension on the whole community. It is interesting to hear similar sentiments being expressed by many of the thousand or so fans who still attend home games.

What concerns them all is what the alternative might be. In reality, very little could be worse than the current regime. Blackpool Supporters’ Trust wants to see credible new owners with an understanding of and affection for the game, with a genuine passion for Blackpool FC, a respect for the role of supporters as the lifeblood of the club, with both the ambition and the funds to sustain another rise through the divisions and the integrity to reinvest the lion’s share of profits earned by the football club back into the football club. These parties exist and are only waiting on a combination of events and the Oystons’ willingness to sell for a fair market price.

Maybe now is the time, in the weeks leading up to Judgement Day 3, for those prominent citizens in local organisations and businesses to start giving public voice to their private views and back calls on the owners of Blackpool FC to put the football club (team, stadium and all) up for sale.

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